Genius emerges

NAGAYOSHI Takeru's 『スミレ♡17歳!!』 (Sumire ♡ juunanasai!!, or "Sumire, age 17!") is one of the best comic books I have read in years. YEARS. YOU BUY IT. YOU BUY IT.

The premise: Sumire is a ventriloquist's mannequin who, along with her mysterious black-clad puppeteer, attends high school. A lesser artist might stop at this idea, add "but nobody notices", and crank out some absurdist sight gags. But the stroke of genius in Sumire is that they all do notice. The only ones unaware of Sumire's dollhood are her teachers (more on this later) and Sumire herself.

So although the doll-in-gym-class physical humor is included -- and executed very well -- the majority of the humor comes from the weird triangular interactions between Sumire, her classmates, and the Puppeteer. We, the readers, are placed in the same situation as the classmates: we have no idea what is going on, and the Puppeteer is never anything other than a gloriously complete cypher. He never, ever breaks character. If someone speaks to him, he responds as Sumire (with something like "What do you mean, 'you creepy old man'? I'm a girl!") If someone punches him, he responds as Sumire...

... and taunts them for missing, because they did, after all, miss Sumire. From her point of view, which does not include the Puppeteer, they punched empty space.

Meanwhile, blood is gushing from the Puppeteer's nose. Maybe this is one those things you either find humorous or you don't, but I am definitely in the former camp.

A lesser artist might stop at this idea, and drop a few broad hints that the guy is basically just a pervert who has hit upon the perfect way to get close to high school students. But Nagayoshi is better than that. He leaves it brilliantly, almost disturbingly, ambiguous as to what exactly the Puppeteer believes, or even knows, about his situation. Given a panel like this one...

... in which Sumire urges her female classmates to hurry up and get changed (Japanese students change for gym in their home room, first the girls and then the boys -- don't ask me why), can we be confident that his doki doki-ing heart is excited at the prospect of seeing his classmates in their underwear?

Or is he just shy?

About the teachers: they can't tell that Sumire isn't a real person, and this is done with magical hand-waving. Whenever they see her, their eyes glaze over and they act as though she were real. Something like this was obviously necessary to make the story work at all (otherwise, the guy would never have gotten himself enrolled in high school), and I can't think of many other options... although giving no visible outward sign of the teachers' situation, and leaving it ambiguous as to whether they were being fooled or whether they were just lying to their students about what they saw for reasons known only to them, might have been a good one.

Maybe that would have been more disturbing, or maybe Nagayoshi has something definite in mind for the magical aspect of his set-up. (I kind of hope not -- it would really bring this story down to include any pseudo-realistic explanations along the lines of "the Puppeteer has a mind control ray that only works on educators".)

Anyway, this means that the students are totally alone. Their authority figures are useless, and they are left to deal with someone completely bizarre and possibly dangerous. Buffy fans should recognize the uses to which an extended metaphor like this can be put, although interestingly, Sumire herself shows no malice and most of the students eventually get used to her and talk to her as if she were real -- it's the ones who insist on continuing to challenge the Puppeteer who play antagonist roles, and their redemption always involves accepting Sumire as a "person".

But what is a "person"? Can a doll be a person if others confer personhood on her? Can a person transfer their personhood to a doll if others acknowledge the act? What if the doll were not a real doll but an allegory for the self we carefully construct and project to the world? What if Sumire is, qualitatively, no more bizarre a story than the ones we all try to tell the people around us every day? Sumire pushes these ideas to the edge, without directly mentioning them at all.

Take a scene like this one, in which it seems that Sumire is apologizing for being a doll.

Does she know, really? But wait -- who is "she"? She's a puppet, and of course the Puppeteer knows... or does he? Does he know in a cynical, top-of-the-consciousness way, or is he unable to admit it to himself, and this is a one-time thing caused by the unusual stress of almost drowning and being saved by a boy who loves her? (And who are we to mock him? Would it be better if he loved a real girl? Here in our world, she'd still be a comic book character...)

And don't forget to notice the Puppeteer at the bottom. It's a hilarious visual, but touching too -- is he crying? Or is he just still wet from the river...?

Sumire is also thought-provoking in the best kind of non-preordained way in the context of Japan's pop culture, where mysterious, silent men in dark suits dress girls up, write songs for them, and push them out on-stage to perform -- although Sumire is a defanged analogy in that presumably Sumire herself, being a mannequin, had no identity of her own over which these male-gaze-friendly ideas are being written.

Of course, the only reason Sumire works as a comic book is because all of these ideas are simmering unexpressed below the surface of a laugh-out-loud funny pastiche of high school life + ventriloquist's doll. Nagayoshi's lines are clean and fun, and his faces are really expressive. And yes, that does include Sumire's: its very inexpressiveness, backed by the Puppeteer's rubber-faced refusal to acknowledge his physical limitations (he is not a young man), gives it a kind of inverse life.

You will see Sumire as a character in her own right. Then you will realize that this is silly. Then you will realize that it's not any sillier than seeing any other drawing on paper as a character. Then you will run to the Saussure-signal for the only man who can help you now. But he died almost a century ago. Where does that leave you?

Strongly recommended.


This post would be twenty times longer if I were still in college

Fun find of the day: MURAYAMA Hanako's "Mousu Mousu" notebook. As you can see here, it's just a regular ruled notebook except that the lines you write your words on are also lines of dialogue, spoken by someone into a phone and then overheard and transcribed by Murayama.

Apparently Kokuyo have a whole line of notebooks produced in collaboration with artists, which is both cool and decadent, I suppose.

The name "Mousu Mousu" is probably related to moshi moshi, what you say in Japan when you pick up the phone, a phrase itself derived from mousu (申す, "Speak"). But phones were not always answered with moshi moshi. According to this page, at first the person making the call would shout oi oi! and the recipient would answer you gozansu ("It's good", i.e. "I hear you".)


Declassified satellite imagery from the Kansai region

To completely neutralize the cake, it proved necessary for agents N. and Butterflyblue to get married. We at No-sword salute their courageous act and wish them well in future missions of a doing-things-together-while-surrounded-by-supportive-friends-and-family nature.

Additional notes:

  • Agent Homodachi's preliminary reconnaissance was greatly appreciated and proved invaluable to this mission.
  • It is strongly recommended that Agent Josh be placed on probation.


I got MeFied

For DotQuest, of all things.

I have celebrated by responding to the main complaints in the thread: sucky web interface (cursor should always start in the box, ready for typing), and unsatisfying responses to swear words.



I'm about to depart on a top-secret mission to Osaka, but I will leave you with the ridiculously gigantic English movie name-Japanese movie name page. I think someone pointed this out to me in comments a long time ago, but it was down at that very moment and unlinkable.

Its time has come.

Did you know...?

  • Abbott and Costello were apparently referred to as "Deko-Boko" ("Convex and Concave"), e.g. Abbott & Costello in the Navy -> 凸凹海軍の巻
  • There was also some character known as "Dreamy Dud" whose Japanese (nick)name was 凸坊 ("the Convex Kid")
  • Dames Ahoy! became 娘喜べ水兵上陸 ("Rejoice, o girls! The navy has arrived!"), a complete reversal.
  • The Wizard of Oz has two Japanese titles listed: オズの魔法使 ("the Wizard of Oz") and 笑国万歳 ("Banzai for the Land of Laughter!") I know which I prefer.

Behind you! Behind you!

The modern word for "tree" is ki, but a lot of the compounds involving ki use ko instead: kodama ("echo", literally "tree-spirit") and kogarashi ("cold wind", literally "tree-afflicter") are two commonly-occuring examples.

Similarly, the modern word for "fire" is hi, but we find compound words like honoke ("[the feeling of] fire's presence", or maybe "smoke"; literally "spirit of fire") and hokage ("firelight").

(Both of these is are actually ïs in OJ, which may be relevant -- hi as in "sun" or "day" had a regular i, and I don't believe it has been shown to act like a ho in any ancient documents.)

This being the case, it really should not have been as surprising to me when I learned that ushiro ("behind") was related to shiri ("rear end" or "ass"). The u- is apparently related to modern mi (身, "body", "contents", etc.), in that both are derived from an older form mu -- which survives in words like munashii ("empty", "lonely", from mu + nashi ("absent")). Apparently, in a compound word like this, mu turned into a u, presumably via the same process that gave us words like ikou and Kobe, but as a standalone word it turned into mi.

If all of this is correct, then ushiro is a neat linguistic fossil, preserving evidence of not one, not two, but three of Japanese's major sound shifts.

I wish I knew how to quit you, blogging

Old Japanese maps (via an infuriatingly sludgy and unpleasant interface. I hate to be churlish when they've obviously gone to great lengths to include what they think is a useful framework for navigating the content that, after all, they had no obligation to put up at all, but this one is really bad. Sigh.)


Lies, all lies

The potion! It does nothing! I am ill all over again.

Clearly magic can't help me. What I need is rest. But I also have to go to work. And that involves walking. And I can't walk and be in bed at the same time!



And not one of those lame "really just a slightly puffier sweatsuit" pretenders, either.

The copy for this alleges that it is a way to keep safe even if attacked by a bear in your sleep, but I don't know. I sense a correlated increase in the danger of being mistaken for an enemy and kicked to death by a grotesquely swollen, spring-heeled, mushroom-popping plumber.

(Via Kayou da yo ("Yo, it's Tuesday").)

More stuff: Via Roy I learn that "Japan's cherry trees are in danger of being wiped out in a decade unless measures are taken quickly to control a mold attacking them". ("The demise of a national symbol of Japan would disappoint many," the article adds, instantly pulverising all understatementometers within six kilometers.)

It would almost be worth letting all the sakura die, just to see how extreme the very, very last hanami could get.



Nat King Cole sings "L.O.V.E." in Japanese. Wow.

"What can modern baseball analysis tell us...

"...about the talent of Bugs Bunny?" (via Something Old, Nothing New)


I wolde I knewe how of thee I might be quitten!

Chaucer has a blog. Better than you think! (via Metafilter.)

While we're on the topic of wishing we knew how to quit people, I was wandering through Junkudou yesterday and my eye was caught by the Japanese translation of the original short story Brokeback Mountain. Could this be where I would find a satisfying "I wish I knew how to quit you" in Japanese? I opened it up. I skimmed. And I found (if I am remembering it correctly):


...which, back-translated, means "I would even end our relationship (lit: cut my hand free) if I could."

Not good enough.


Fantasy/reality divide weakens further

Like John said, Squenix have started selling Final Fantasy Potions. I was pretty sick this week, and I realized that this was the perfect chance to try them out. (My control in this trial was "common sense".)

First things first: these things are hard to get. I had to kill like twenty grimps before one of them dropped a bottle.

Second: potions taste less mystical and more like a dietary supplement than you might expect. This is, I suppose, to be expected when the ingredients are liquid grape sugar, sugar, royal jelly, propolis, elderflower (or possibly elderberries), chamomile, sage, thyme, hyssop, fennel, majoram, rosemary, something like basilico, and melissa (hi Melissa!)*

I visualize the design process here as a bunch of nerds sitting around listing the High Fantasy-sounding herbs they can remember. "Man, they totally put hyssop on dragon wounds. We have to get some of that in there."

So, did it work? Well, put it this way: I am no longer sick.

* Not to mention food acids, scent, caffeine, preservatives, salt, vitamin B6, vitamin 1, and blue food coloring number 1.


Welcome, adventurer

Short version: DotQuest.

Long version: So, I said to myself, "Self, you need to learn how to use CGI and the like."

"Yeah, and you need to lose a few pounds and stop meddling in people's motherfucking business," my self replied.

Harsh words were exchanged and calculators were employed to convert pounds into kilograms, but it all worked out for the best and now I have a working, if limited, adventure survival horror game on No-sword.

P.S. "Enshamen" to cheat.

P.P.S. I also fixed the bug which meant you could never truly die, but became trapped in an endless loop of agony and madness instead. That one was kind of creepy.


It's the time of the season

If you speak even intermediate Japanese, chances are good that you can figure out the roots of at least three of the four seasons.

Haru is the easiest, related directly and obviously as it is to MJ hareru, "be[come] fine" (of weather, real or metaphorical). The CJ form was har.e. It seems a little odd in the MJ context to use a verb as a noun like that, without any nominalization or RY-ization or anything to soften the blow (e.g. hare or haru-no or whatever), but in fact in CJ you often see verbs used like that -- nominalization didn't have to be specifically marked with a particle. So it may well be that initially people were just walking around saying "Man, I can't wait until the becoming-fine" until eventually it got turned into a noun because it was so useful. (There's also the possibility that they come from the same root but have a sibling-sibling rather than parent-child relationship, of course.)

(I should mention the possibility that it comes from haru in the sense of "swell, grow" (of plants), but frankly I don't think it is correct, and neither does OONO "editor of the Iwanami kogo jiten" Susumu, who mentions that accentual issues make this derivation unlikely.)

Before spring comes winter: fuyu. Seriously, you probably do know this one. It's related to hieru ("be[come] cold"). The CJ form was hiy.e. Which means it could also have worked like I hypothesized above: "Aw, crap, it feels like the becoming-cold already."

Before winter, autumn: aki. This is an interesting one, because there are two competing theories. The first is that it's related to the /ak/ of aka ("red"), akiraka ("clear"), akeru ("be[come] bright, dawn"). I don't know about the brightness -- seems like summer is a lot brighter than autumn to me -- but I suppose the autumn light does have a certain clear quality to it, and of course the leaves turn red...

The other theory relates it to CJ ak.i as in "be[come] full, satisfied" (which, amusingly, lives on in MJ primarily as akiru, "be[come] sick of"). Because of the crops and the last chance to fill up on snacks before winter, you see. I find this one a lot more convincing, as Japan has always been about eating a lot in autumn. Shokuyoku no aki ("wanting-to-eat autumn") is a set phrase with two orders of magnitude more google hits than "shokuyoku no [any other season]".

Then there's natsu, summer, which is both the hardest for a Japanologist to figure out and the most linguistically interesting. This page summarizes it pretty well: a lot of linguists see a relation between it and Korean nierym, Manchu niyengniyeri, and other Altaic-family words beginning with /n/ and meaning "young" or "fresh". The downside, of course, is that natsu doesn't sound anything like either of those words except for the /n/.

The other common theory links natsu to atsu-, a Japanese root meaning "hot", but in that case the issue of where the extra /n/ came from is a bit tricky. So is the issue of why there are no similar words with an extra /n/ at the front like that (at least to my knowledge.)

Personal note: the internet at my domicile is completely dead until Saturday.

Straight outta Sinkang Sia

A crazy cache of documents in Siraya. Man, this is the exciting. I wish the sample wasn't one of the boring parts of the Bible, though. On the plus side I am now pretty confident that if a Siraya speaker ever asks me who begat someone, I will be able to answer in their native language.


Moe: the final word

Moetry for you.

(ii) "it is nonsense to love nonentity characters"
I recommend you to look "love" up in your dictionary. You'll find "love" is a very ambiguity word. So is "moe", as I mentioned before. Haven't you been moved by 2-dimension characters' act and come to favorite them? They were kinds of love,and we call such feelings "moe". If you haven't , you might not understand good points of rainbow, poetry, beautiful garments.

Or possibly even unicorns.

The author also uses the word "bemoed", which I consider the epitome of cromulence.


Meditations on first philosophy

Aozora Bunko have added MIKI Kiyoshi's old translation of Descartes' Meditationes de Prima Philosophia, in quibus Dei Existentia, et Animae Humanae a Corpore Distinctio, Demonstrantur ("Meditations on prime-grade philosophy, existential quibblings about God, and the distinction between animals, humans and corporals, as demonstrated by the advanced scientific word of Trantor.")

It has already been several years since I realized how many false things I, in my youth, had accepted as true; and how doubtful the various superstructures that I had built upon the basis of those falsehoods were; and that, this being so, should I wish to construct scholarship of solidity and permanence, it would be necessary at some point in my life to overturn the whole thing and begin anew from the foundation.

... and that was the day he took down his Led Zep posters.


Now that's what I call a history of Unicode in Japan

(Via Metafilter.)


Q: What's worse than breaking into a high school and stealing a girl's swimsuit?


(Note that the "prancing" is not in the original Japanese story. (Yeah, I checked; wouldn't you?) They seem to keep their translators on a fairly loose leash down there at the Mainichi.)

You know you're a nerd, but not enough of a nerd, when...

...two days after fumbling around for the right words during a conversation and finally settling for the phrase "super-healing powers", you kick yourself when you suddenly remember that what you wanted to say was "mutant healing factor."


This post will probably be totally opaque to those who don't ride trains in Tokyo but I can't find an explanatory photo, sorry

Why do you think KATOU Ai is always with the Dokomo-dake mushroom family? She clearly isn't related by blood, and she never seems to be interacting with any particular one of them, so I don't even think she's that close a friend. The kids ignore her but she doesn't seem to resent them for it, so she's probably not adopted. (Big age difference, too.)

I imagine that she was one married to the eldest Dokomo-dake son, perhaps named "Chounan Dokomo-dake". Their love was fierce and tragic, opposed by the parents on both sides, but eventually the Dokomo-dake family gave in, realizing that their foolish prejudices had almost lost them their eldest son. Her parents, who came from more conservative families, never did see reason, and refused to see her even when her husband was killed in a freak accident at his construction job.

She only heard when she came back from her job making sandwiches at Kanda station. They were saving to buy their dream house.

Now the Dokomo-dakes are all she has left, and they're too good-hearted to throw her out... but deep down, they can't help blaming her for Chounan's death. They know it's unfair, but they can't let her in any more. And that's why she's outside making snowmushrooms while they're all warm in their igloos. Look how bravely she smiles.


Gee, but it's nice to see you again

Three cinemas in Tokyo have caught Brokeback Fever, and the only cure was me going to see it in Shibuya! And man... I was disgusted. I can't believe that the authorities would allow a movie to so brazenly depict such unnatural, depraved behaviour. And don't even get me started on the health risks -- some things were not meant to be put into our bodies! Won't someone think of the arthouse movie-going children?!

Yes -- smoking cigarettes is just plain nasty.

(If you have to ask what I thought of the film, you clearly haven't been paying enough attention to my ongoing obsession with doomed love stories set in the past. And Ang Lee films about men. Also, everyone should read this.)

More importantly, I was looking forward to getting a professional opinion on how one might say 'I wish I knew how to quit you' in Japanese. I didn't get it, though. The subtitle translation of this line was weak like your frugal aunt's diluted orange juice: from memory, "いっそやめられたら…", which just means "if only I were able to quit [something]".


And now my consolation

Best metafilter post ever, if you like the old, sad standards.


Japanese! Japanese! is "a community weblog with tips and tricks to learn Japanese". The community weblog is in many ways the ideal way to blog about language learning, since the multiple authors mean that your odds of going completely astray under the wing of some etymology-obsessed speaker who prefers archaic forms wherever possible and whose name is Matt are greatly reduced. Add comments, and basically you have a way for people to say "hey I learned this neat word" and wait for the pile-on of knowledge. And then you can use the skills you learned there to parse the almost-a-porno you got from J-List, who advertise there (natch).


Heh. Wooo

So how long have Hitachi's camcorders been called "Wooo"? And why hasn't Sony come out with an "Aw Yeeah Motherfucker" to compete?

(If only America still had a decent electronics industry -- there's totally room in this market space for the "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!")

Because this post is too short: Polish design + Japanese movies = Polish-designed Japanese movie posters. Why is Polish design so awesome? (I am thinking in particular of the Stanislaw Lem book covers I love most.) Does it have to do with communism? (Via Gaijin Biker)